Burning forest biomass undermines the EU’s objectives toward climate change mitigation, nature protection and a circular economy and has a devastating, irreversible impact on forests, according to a Fern briefing note calling on the EU to halt subsidies for biomass after 2020.
Fern issued the briefing on the limited availability of wood for energy in October, just as the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) announced that bioenergy now accounts for more than 60 per cent of all renewable energy consumed in the EU. Most of this is produced by burning wood. Future demand could exceed limits of sustainable supply of wood by hundreds of millions of cubic metres, the briefing reveals.
“The EU supports the use of biomass for heating and electricity but has failed to make subsidies conditional on volume limits or sustainability requirements,” says Linde Zuidema, Fern’s bioenergy campaigner. “The EU must recognise that further support for woody biomass will entail significant trade-offs with other forest functions, such as biodiversity protection or climate change mitigation. It should focus on measures to reduce energy demand, rather than promote the incineration of wood.”
Burning wood leads to significant CO2 emissions, and this natural resource can be used much more efficiently to substitute carbon-intensive materials such as steel, concrete or plastics, than to replace fossil energy.
As we went to press, Fern published a report written by the acclaimed environmental journalist Fred Pearce, outlining the impact that harvesting and burning wood for biomass was having on forests. The report, ‘Up in Flames: How biomass burning wrecks Europe’s forests’, features case studies from Slovakia, Romania, the Gardanne region in southern France and the south-eastern United States, where forests are being cut down to feed the giant Drax power plant in northern England.